This is a wonderful place to find ourselves inside of, but we’re not supposed to be here. We spend so much of our time underneath a ceiling that closes out the sky, so much time with walls around us, where you can’t smell what’s outside, where the breeze is kept from touching you.
You don’t know right now if it’s day or night. It’s good to have the shelters, to be underneath a roof sometimes, but we didn’t evolve for this. We come from a different world. For most of human evolution, we were in the outside world. We were beyond these walls.
We were made to be out there, where you can smell what’s happening, where you can see the change of light, where you can hear the cars outside, maybe birds, maybe the wind. You know what happens, we all know what happens when you open the doors. We open the doors outside, and the world changes. It becomes possible in a way that just can’t happen indoors. Everything out there is full of potential, everything out there is full of scents, full of experience.
You look back at human evolution and sure, we spent some time in caves, maybe long enough to paint on the walls and leave an archaeological record, fire hearth, and stone tools, but most of those lives were spent out there, with animals, with weather. That’s how we evolved, and I look back at the Paleolithic, when the human brain was actually five percent larger than our brains now, and I wonder if that five percent isn’t us losing our faculties, us losing access to something so powerful, something that’s not human: the whole world beyond us. We can benefit from being in nature, physically. When you’re in a forest, your immune system is actually boosted by the green. The sound of running water can lower your heart rate, can lower blood pressure.
But I’m not really here to talk about the empirical value of nature, I’m here to talk about the thing itself, about the visceral experience of opening that door and going outside, what it’s like to be out there beyond the human realm. (Video) (Running water) This is my youngest son, we’re in Utah right after a rain, when those dry arroyos and canyons open up with running water, and this is what you do, this is the world you see out there. When it rains, you start moving, you start following that water, you follow your kid up that drainage, and look at this place, look how this is designed, not by human architecture, but by geography, by gravity, by fluid dynamics, and it carries you, it sends you out there. And he wants to go up higher, of course, to go to the source of where this water is coming from, where is the source? You would go up over this cliff, up into the valleys beyond, you would go up into the sky, into the clouds. (Video ends).
That’s the thing about being out there: it doesn’t end. There’s not a boundary, there’s not a place. You end up with the imaginary lines of the Bureau of Land Management Property, of private land, but really out there, there are no boundaries other than the shape of the boulder in front of you, other than your foot on the ground. We learn languages inside, about civility, we learn languages about economics, which help us discuss things with each other. These languages help us relate to each other, but what about the languages that help us relate to the world? To a place that is more than human? What about those languages that tell us how to move on the ground, how to follow scents; and when I mean scents, I mean finding a fresh track of a bear on the ground, and dropping to it on your knees and smelling it to see if you can pick up that fine, fine scent that smells like wet grass, the smell of a bear traveling through.
This is what I’m looking for. I’m looking for this place that does not smell of us, this place that smells of the larger world, of the world that just unfolds in front of you and keeps on moving, and moving, and you don’t control it. We don’t make it; it makes itself. A couple weeks ago, I went out backpacking with my older kid, a 12-year-old. Here was his request, or maybe I should say demand.
He said, “OK, no trails, no maps, no tent, no stove.” And that’s how we go together. We do this, we put on packs, and when we went out, I didn’t even know the road network where we were going, we just went out on a dirt road, drove to this place and that place, turned off at dusk on a spur road, and I looked through the trees looking for a little bit of horizon, so we could park the car some place that we could look out and say, “OK, this is where we need to come back to.” I love traveling this way.
When we were preparing the imagery beforehand, the stage manager came up to me and said, “So how do you keep from getting lost?” and I thought, “I want to get lost.” I want that sensation of not knowing where I am, of just everything is fresh, everything is new. Every next step is a possibility where you have to decide, you have to make that choice with every step. When I went out with my 12-year-old, we just followed animal trails, and we moved through the drainages, and you make decisions, whereas a trail sends you in one direction. I’m not saying run off into the wilderness and lose your maps. You may never come back. That may be worth it for that last moment, but maybe not if there is another thing to do.